Chapter Twenty-three – Sunrise Services
By Glenn Hening
[ 23-SunriseServices.pdf ]
“No way, Heath! I’m not letting go too soon! I’m releasing on his signal!”
Aleja Gracellen was floating on her back with her feet in the straps of the tow-in board. They were practicing whips, a technique they would be using to launch her into the big waves at the reef. For the past two weeks she had fixed the jet skis, run the mountains, and paddled for hours along the coast, and no matter what Larson had thrown at her, she had never said a word. Now Heath Larson was looking down at her from the driver’s seat of the waverunner and as soon as she came right back at him, he knew something was wrong. They both looked at Sonny-boy Noaloa, sitting behind Larson as spotter and safety.
“What? I tott she goin’ too fas’!”
“Don’t worry about me, Sonny-boy,” said Gracellen evenly, “I can take it just as much as you guys.”
“Den what da hell you need me fo’? I thought a spottah want fo’ da safety first! That’s how you say, Heath!” Noaloa turned and was just about chin to chin with Larson.
He knew there was no love lost between Gracellen and Noaloa. But his existential detachment from people left him unable to construct bridges across the gaps and inconsistencies of human nature, much less two surfers at polar opposites, the pro surf star and the woman who danced with the sea.
“Ok, let’s try it again. Sonny-boy, I’ll let you know when we’re up to speed before you give her the signal, ok?” said Larson, wrongly assuming forward momentum would ease the strain.
“Den what you need me fo?” retorted Noaloa.
Gracellen had heard enough. “Let’s get going and we’ll get it right the next time.”
“I’m sure you will,” said Noaloa, not a trace of pidgin to his words. He took off his safety vest and dove off the ski. He stayed underwater for almost thirty yards, and when he surfaced he kept swimming towards the beach.
“Now what’s his problem?” said Gracellen.
“No big deal. He’ll drive next time, I’ll spot, and we’ll get it right.”
“Why don’t we try to get it right without him? I can handle the speed, and I need to know how to do this before I leave, don’t I?”
There were only two days left in their three week training schedule. They’d almost made it, but Larson knew he had finally lost control of the situation between Gracellen and Noaloa.
“All right, let’s go,” he said, gunning the ski engine. Aleja smiled and braced herself.
It was noon when they pulled up to the launch ramp . Bruddah had been watching the session through binoculars from the beach.
“Barbie from da ‘Bu! You geevum good out deah, sista!” he said.
Gracellen smiled at Bruddah. She didn’t mind his nickname for her since she’d more than proved she was no plastic doll trading on her looks.
“Thanks,” she said in a quiet voice. Larson’s voice was anything but quiet.
“Where’s the kid? Did you tell him mutiny is a capital crime on the high seas?” He was only half-joking.
“Run back up da house. He no wanna talk. I figgah bes’ leave ‘im alone.”
“Maybe you’re right, I guess. Let’s get something to eat and get back out there. Bruddah, you drive. We gotta practice more whips.”
A late afternoon rain was beginning to fall when they slowly pulled up to the house. An exhausted Gracellen was asleep in the back of the crew cab as Bruddah and Heath added their voices to a soft, old song by Cecilio and Kapono. The joy and peace of the words filled their hearts, until Larson remembered Sonny-boy and switched off the ignition key without waiting for the song to end. They went inside and straight to Noaloa’s room. No surfboards, no clothes, no Noaloa.
“Oh shit, where da guy?” said Bruddah.
“This isn’t good,” said Larson.
Bruddah went back out to the truck to get his cell phone while Larson looked around for a note of explanation. First it was a mutiny, now it was AWOL. He came back out on the porch just as Bruddah snapped the phone closed.
“Champ bail back Oahu-side. Call my cuz at Aloha Airline. The kid on da inter-island two hour ago.”
“When’s the next flight?”
“Nutha hour, but don’t know we find him so easy. Maybe stay heah and tink first.”
“What do you mean? Think about what?” said Larson.
“My cuz say he check his boards tru Sydney. And dat flight leave Honolulu in twenty minutes.”
Roberto Mercante could not believe his ears.
“You mean he just left? How could he do that? He works for me!”
“Oh c’mon, Roberto, you know this thing with Gracellen really got to him. He knows Cheryl is thinking of firing the entire surf team, and he probably thinks that includes him!” said Larson, sitting on the porch steps.
“Well, she did fire ‘em all, but not him. He’s part of the deal! He KNOWS that, doesn’t he? Where do you think he went?”
“I just told you Roberto. He bought a one way to Australia. Pretty expensive ticket, too. Last minute first class. Bruddah’s cousin said he paid with a Wavelife credit card authorized for his use.”
“Oh shit, that’s right! He still has it!”
“There’s more, Roberto. Here, let Bruddah tell you.”
“He do all you ask him. He work hard but you no tink he got feelings. I like da Barbie. She got good mana. But he just a kid. You wife shudda known mo betta. Dis mo’ than just business, brah.”
Mercante bit his lip and thought of how his son and daughter were turning out after being raised around a schedule where business always came first.
“Ok, now what do I do?” asked the self-made millionaire.
“Bettah call your wife, and then call da guy Clark. We got go get him ‘fo some thing bad happen.”
Mercante’s mind went blank.
“What do you mean, Bruddah? Why do we - - -“
Then it hit him like a thick lip of a suck-out tube over a shallow reef.
“Oh, shit! Mick Lennox!”
“Well, things could be worse. How are things going for Aleja?” said Cheryl Corlund, sitting in an L.A. garment district design studio looking at sketches for new lines of women’s wear.
“I guess just fine, but listen, Cheryl, - - -“
“No, YOU listen Roberto. I don’t want anything to interfere with Aleja’s training. She has to surf the reef.”
“But - - -“
“But nothing. When are you going to understand what we’re doing, Roberto? Oh, and you did follow up on the surf team issue, right?”
“Uh, yeah, well, I started making calls two days ago. But some of them have been hard to find. It’s not easy tracking down three hundred surfers around the world.”
“Just put the pink slips in with their final paychecks. You don’t need to be running up a phone bill making explanations. As for Sonny-boy, if Bruddah wants to go get him, that’s fine with me. But Heath stays and finishes the training with Aleja on schedule,” she said, smiling at a sketch for beautiful summer dress that would compliment Aleja’s spirit perfectly.
Ian Clark was at his desk early the next morning and for once not watching the market data on his computer. Mercante had guessed Noaloa would try to get into Australia’s biggest contest held during Easter Week, so tickets in Bruddah’s real name were waiting at Quantas for a first class seat to Melbourne, the closest city to Bell’s Beach. And Clark made sure a Geosurf employee would be waiting at the airport to pick him up. But the big Hawaiian had never traveled anywhere except the mainland and needed a passport.
Forms were downloaded, signatures faxed, and now Ian Clark had to somehow get around a bottleneck in the Honolulu passport office.
“No, Mr. Clark, applications received under expedited circumstances today will not be ready until tomorrow. Security checks, you understand.”
“Thanks so much for trying to help us, I appreciate it,” said Clark switching gears and thinking fast, “If it wasn’t a matter of someone’s safety, I wouldn’t be calling. Who am I speaking with?”
“My name is Rellsunn Laniakai, sir.”
“What a beautiful name! And she was a great surfer. So much aloha in her heart. Quite an honor to be named after such a wonderful person.”
“My parents were friends of hers. She was like my auntie.”
“Well I won’t keep you any longer, Rellsunn. Oh, one quick question,” he paused and played the Hawaiian one-big-family card, “Does, uh, let me get his name, yes, does Ilano Kolana have to be there to sign for his passport?”
“Yes, he, excuse me, but did you say Ilano Kolana?”
“Why yes, he’s a good friend of mine,” said Clark. Bingo!
“Uncle Bruddah! Why he go Australia?” the passport office clerk couldn’t help but lapse out of Fedspeak.
“He’s got a friend in trouble. In fact, you may know him. Sonny - - -“
“Sonny-boy Noaloa! Oh big problem that one! But Uncle Bruddah got big heart. Okay, you tell him come see his niece right now. Window B, third floor. I got passport waiting he get here.”
“I’ll call him right away,” said Clark, “Thanks so much for your help, Rellsunn. Aloha!”
“Goodbye sir, and thank you for calling the Honolulu Passport Office,” said the young Hawaiian, jumping back across the gulf that separated blood from water.
* * *
“What the hell ya doin’ heyah, mate?” said the pro tour director, sitting in his office overlooking the clean waves of the Gold Coast, five hundred miles north of Sydney, “Ya didn’t show up at the Superbank contest and we figgered you’d quit the tour fer good!”
“Yeah, lotsa peoples tink dat. So how I get into da Bells?” said Sonny-boy Noaloa, calling from a hotel in Melbourne, a thousand miles to the south, but only an hour’s drive from Bells Beach.
“Whatcher mean, Sonny-boy, how do you get in? Wavelife didn’t send in a form on ya. In fact, they just pulled their whole fuckin’ team mate. Mercante fired eight guys with no notice and never sent in their fees.”
“Well, gimme one dose guys spots . I pay da entry fee.”
“Can’t, mate. They got picked up two days ago by Gnarlaroo and they’re all back in.”
“Even da Brazilians?”
“No, they went with Coral Brazil. I got a call from Rio, and we’re waiting on a bank transfer, so - - -“
“So what’s it gonna take fo’ me get in? Fuck, I win dis ting two year ago. Dat worth sumtin’. Play up da press, get you paybacks no problem.”
The organizer of the longest continuously running surf contest in the world, the Bells Beach Easter Championships, knew Noaloa had a point. The Aussie tabloids were always looking for a cheap angle and he still had time to make tomorrow’s Sunday sports supplements.
“Well mate, ya hafta start in the first round. And after what happened in Hawai’i, we gotta let the locals have a chance at every contest this year. So you’ll be surfing against Aussies for two days, and you gotta win every heat ta advance all the way. Gotta be there Monday, six am. Its gonna be raining, and the surf is shitass, but that’s your chance. The entry fee is two-fifty US.”
Sonny-boy Noaloa opened his backpack and found the Wavelife credit card. It had a twenty grand limit with four to go.
“Don’t fuck with me, mate! No way Noaloa is heyah!” Mick Lennox was letting the morning sun rise on his hangover. He didn’t need anyone playing games with him at the moment.
“Read it yerself, Mick!” said his old friend, Col Ritchie, his running mate around the world on the tour and the guy who’d been with Lennox when they had been chased out of Hawai’i. The headline said “Hawaiian Surf Star Wants Bells Trophy!” and the story went on for an entire column . Lennox didn’t bother to try and read the fine print through his bleary eyes.
“Fuck that arshole! Let’s get down there and kick his fuckin’ arse back to the Islands!”
“Yer sure you want to do that?”
“I’m not gonna let that wanker run me outta the North Shore and then waltz around free Down Under! I gotta couple of friends from Narabeen who don’t like him much either.”
“Those guys play rough, Mick. You sure you know what yer doing?”
“Fuck, we’ll just scare the shit outta him, bloody his nose a bit, and drop him off at the airport. No worries. Where’s the fuckin’ mobile?”
“Sir, can you tell us the purpose of your visit to Australia and why you are traveling alone?“
“It long story, but you no worry ‘bout me. I come see good friend mine, help him out.”
“And how long you will be in our country?”
“Uh, I don’t know. First I gots to find my friend.”
The official caught a signal from his superior.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you to keep your hands visible and please come with me.”
“What you mean? I no got nuthin’.”
“We will determine that in a few minutes. Routine procedures, you understand, and I’ll thank you for your cooperation,” said the immigration official, holding Ilano Kolana’s brand new passport in his hand.
It was close to noon when Bruddah emerged from the immigration officesat the Melbourne airport, freshly fingerprinted and not a little bit shaken. He answered every question truthfully, but to the officials, things didn’t add up. They made several phone calls to Hawai’i before asking mo re questions. But after almost two hours, Bruddah had earned their respect by keeping his cool and politely cooperating throughout his ordeal. He may have been a twohundred and fifty pound pure bred Hawaiian the likes of which they had never seen, but he was also a very smart human being. When he was finally free to go, the immigration officials wished him luck during his visit to the lucky country. It was Palm Sunday morning, and he wondered what the week ahead was going to be like for an Island boy a long way from home.
* * *
A half moon was rising late Saturday night over the hills of Maui. Two attractive athletes were sitting on a veranda after dinner, trade winds wafting through the palms and the open windows of the house. Under any other circumstances, there might have been love in the air instead of a conversation that was quickly becoming a duel. She’d been dealing with come-ons for years and could see one coming a mile away, knowing her beauty was only enhanced by the low glow coming from the lights inside the house. But he was a confirmed bachelor trying to make sure she didn’t misunderstand him, his existentialist intellect a constant reminder that she was not part of his personal life because the only personal life he had was the life within his person. He’d been alarmed by the suspicion in her voice and was backtracking as best he could because he didn’t need anything to complicate the process of being ready to ride waves bigger than any she’d ever seen in person.
“But I just don’t know if you’re ready, Aleja. We need another week so we can work on the whips into some real waves. I know Cheryl has planned this whole thing for June through August, but the storms are starting up around Antarctica, and I just think - - -”
“Didn’t we already go through this? I have to be back at the shelter by Wednesday, and tomorrow is our last session, period. And I am ready, Heath. You said yourself that once I’m up and riding, all I have to do is relax and not fall off. And I can do that, ok?”
“That’s not the point. You haven’t actually ridden a big wave on a towboard, or wiped out and been picked up with the sled, or - - -“
“No, and I won’t unless the surf comes up and we get in a session on the way to the airport. But one way or another, I’m on a plane tomorrow afternoon. I want to sleep in my own bed and not a cot in your garage, and that’s that.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that, and, uh, we could change that, I guess. You could sleep in Sonny-boy’s room if you want.”
“No, Heath, I’m going home.”
“Aleja, you have to trust me,” he said, but suddenly he didn’t know if it was his mind talking, or his heart. “Why are you even doing this? If you aren’t going to trust me, aren’t you being less than honest with Cheryl Corlund telling her you want to surf the waves we saw at that meeting?”
“I trust you, and I’m honest with Cheryl. I couldn’t do either if I didn’t first trust myself, and know when I’m being honest. And the honest truth is I want to go home,” parried Gracellen, “Any other questions?”
Even as it is truly impossible to adequately write about love, or convey erotica with words, it was not possible for these two human beings to bridge a gap that one could not leap across because the other didn’t even see it. Yet Larson would not give up.
“What if I was to tell you that love was part of what we are doing?”
“Love of me? Love of self?” said Gracellen fiercely, more than ready to match wits with the existentialist when the ‘L’ word came up, “The love you think I must have for you if I am to be trusted with your life, or the love you think you must have for me if you are to be trusted with mine?”
Larson let the words lap against the strongholds of his mind like ripples against a jagged shore from a stone dropped into a lake. Gracellen waited patiently for him to speak, giving him the time and respect that he, like most men, needed.
“What we will be doing out on that reef depends on an absolute partnership in what can be, and will be, a life-and-death situation. Life is all about love, is it not? Isn’t that part of why you are doing this, for the love you have for the people you shelter?”
“Point taken,” she said.
Off in the distance a low roar could be heard. The waves of a new swell were starting to echo in the night. Heath saw a chance to include the ocean in the conversation.
“Maybe there’ll be some waves tomorrow, and we can at least make sure we can work together in some real situations.”
“Yeah, maybe. You know, Heath, I don’t know much about you, and given all that’s ahead of us, I don’t think love should have any bearing on anything we do together.”
“I know that, Aleja. What I’m speaking of here is a love that really has nothing to do with us, per se.”
“Then what’s all this about, Heath? You’ve got me up here, alone, with no Bruddah and no Sonny-boy to distract you. And now you are talking about love?”
“Not love as you may understand it. What I’m talking about is - - -”
Gracellen turned and looked straight into his eyes. She wasn’t going to be less than direct with Larson. She expected the same from him and wanted him to know it. He did, and he didn’t skip a beat.
“Shelter. You need it, the people you help in Santa Monica need it, and that is what love is . I find shelter inside waves . I don’t find it with my heart in the hands of others. So this is not a matter of our hearts, yours or mine. It’s a matter of the shelter to be found inside waves when you ride them as I have. And that will depend on our partnership when we’re out at the reef.”
“Did you say all this to Sonny-boy? Did you talk to him about love? Or did you stay safe in your macho world and talk around it?”
“Sonny-boy doesn’t know enough about the mana of surfing to understand what riding a wave means. I think you do, and that’s why I’m broaching the subject. A wave in its transient energy is the most unusual form of shelter there is . It comes and goes, and most people would never equate it with a warm fire, a family, sleeping in one’s own bed, or the arms of a lover. But that’s what it means to me. If we are to be partners in riding the biggest perfect waves in the world, you have to know that.”
“How can a wave be shelter? How does it protect you?” asked Gracellen skeptically, “I saw the Malloys’ movie and I liked their point of view. But as far as you and I are concerned, well, thanks for sharing, Heath, but I think you’re full of shit.”
She smiled, and Larson couldn’t help but laugh in the knowledge they’d reached a denouement.
“You’re right! Please excuse me while I go use the men’s room,” he said as he stood up and stretched, “You know, a guy won a Nobel prize for physics thanks to ideas he had while - - -“
“Please, Heath, you don’t have to go into details, thank you,” laughed Gracellen, “And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to pack.”
The first big set of the new swell hit the offshore reefs where they had been practicing. The explosions, amplified by the valleys, reverberated clearly and distinctly up to the house almost five miles from the beach.
“I think I’ll go and prep the waverunner,” said Larson, “just in case we have time for a session tomorrow.”
“We’ll have time,” replied Gracellen, “Let’s be ready at dawn. I’d love to ride some really good waves before I leave.”
Larson looked at her for an extra second and Gracellen laughed.
“I’d LIKE to ride some really good waves before I leave.”
They atmosphere was now completely relaxed between them and Gracellen was no longer on guard. She had a thought for Sonny-boy, and her heart softened at the thought of the former world champion.
“It’s too bad what happened with Sonny-boy. Going to Australia was a pretty radical thing to do. I hope he knew what he’s doing.”
“He didn’t, so let’s hope Bruddah finds him fast.”
* * *
“Hey, all I want is go surf!” said Sonny-boy Noaloa, trying to concentrate on the waves now slowly becoming visible in the cold, rainy dawn on day one of Australia’s biggest pro surf contest.
“Fuckin’ A, mate, that’s all any of us want to do. We just don’t want you to do it heyah!”
The cocky young Australian local had two of his mates standing on either side of him. All three were burly bricklayers by trade, though now on the dole, while trying to become professional surfers.
“Yeah, ya fuck! Ahfta what ya did to Mick on the North Shore, maybe we’ll just break ya fuckin’ surfboards and solve the whole fuckin’ problem!”
The Sunday papers had announced Noaloa’s last minute entry. The news was like electricity coursing through the traveling pro surf circus. TV crews and surf journos were looking all over for him, but Noaloa had deliberately stayed out of sight until the last minute. But even through the rain in the predawn darkness, the Australian locals knew who he was. He didn’t know what was going to happen next and realized he’d never been this scared before, not even when getting hassled in high school back in Florida. Of course, back then he didn’t have a rep for having other people fight his battles for him, and right now his dad’s posse was long gone.
Just then the traditional signal to start the day at the contest exploded out of the speakers. It was Australian surfing’s national anthem: AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells”. He remembered how he’d been saved by the bell starting classes in Florida and he quickly took advantage of the temporary distraction. He grabbed his double board bag and practically ran to the judges tower.
“See ya in the watah, surf stah!”
“Yeah, he’s gonna kick your ass!”
“And then we’ll help ya get the fuck outta heah!”
“Five minutes. Five minutes. Competitors in the water, you have five minutes left in your heat.”
The four surfers already knew how much time was left because they could see the big digital clock on the judges’ tower even though it was raining steadily. But like all big surfing contests, the show went on at full blast and the announcement was easily heard out in the water like a sound check at an empty arena before a rock concert. In fact, there were no spectators anywhere because the fabled surf at Bells Beach was not even a shadow of itself.
This played to the strengths of Sonny-boy Noaloa. He had won a dozen such contests and knew exactly what he had to do when forced to hassle and grovel for crumbling mush breaking only a few yards from the beach. He ignored the dirty looks from the other three surfers in the water. He ignored the loudspeakers blasting speed metal music in between the announcer’s lame attempts at commentary. He concentrated on getting “three to the beach”, and he already had ridden two of them.
His first “wave” had been only about a foot high. Before going out he’d taken the leash off his board, knowing it could get tangled around his feet in the tiny waves. He had also replaced the normal fins on his board with much smaller ones so he could slide the tail around and slash skateboarder maneuvers while riding right up on the sand. His second wave was barely a ripple, but he was able to get to his feet and score points on a wave that was impossible for his competitors to ride. They were lifelong Bells Beach surfers and normally wouldn’t have been caught dead trying to surf in such impossible conditions. They had entered the contest with dreams of making it to the big show by ripping the long even waves for which Bells was famous. Now, thanks to the realities of competitive surfing combined with the vagaries of the ocean in transition from one season to the next , they were sitting in the rain twenty yards from the beach and unable to even get to their feet.
The heat was coming to an end and Noaloa only needed one more wave.
A rain squall hit and the judges could barely see the surfers through the downpour. Two of the Aussies simply gave up and came in, getting off their boards in the waist deep water and walking the short distance to the sand. But one wouldn’t give up. It was one of the locals that had cornered Noaloa before the event started. The two sat almost within arms’ reach of each other, stonesilent as if the other guy didn’t exist, one ready to ride another ripple to make his victory complete, the other ready to explode in frustration.
A tiny wave began to form up and both surfers paddled for it. Noaloa was able to get his board moving on the swell, but the Aussie, who outweighed Sonny-boy by fifty pounds, just couldn’t catch the wave. Noaloa got to his feet, and by simply crouching low on the short ride to the sand, was going to win the heat and advance to the next round. The bricklayer was enraged, and out of frustration he leaned back and let his board shoot out like a projectile. The board went over Sonny-boy’s head, but he was so intent on riding the wave to the beach he didn’t even realize what happened. The board missed him and, still attached by its leash, came back at the local like a slingshot.
“You fuckin bahstard! I’m gonna kill ya!” he screamed, as if Noaloa had intentionally tried to spear HIM. He ran through the waist-deep water, came up behind Noaloa, spun him around and cold-cocked him with a fist to the face.
Noaloa was knocked flat on his back, but for an instant knew what was happening and tried to use his board as a shield. The local leaped on him and slammed a fist right into the Wavelife logo before ripping the board out of the way and going to work on Noaloa’s face. The horn sounded, ending the heat and signaling the beginning of another fifteen minutes of competition between four more surfers trying to make it into the pros. Contest officials came running from the scaffolding and pulled the assailant off his victim. Noaloa tried to get to his feet, stumbled, keeled over and passed out.
The former two-time world professional surfing champion opened his eyes slowly. He was in a brightly lit room, with faces all around him. They moved back from the hospital bed until there was only one man smiling down at him.
“Bruddah, what, what - - -“
“You rest now, you safe. We talk latah.”
“Did I, did I win? When’s my next heat?”
Noaloa tried to struggle upright in the bed. A doctor and a nurse came to the bedside and helped ease their patient back down.
“You’d better go now, sir. We’ll call you as soon as possible.”
Bruddah turned and left the room, tears in his eyes and rage in his heart. He’d made it to the contest site just as the ambulance was leaving. When he got out of the rental, a contest official saw him and put two and two together.
“Uh, hello, uh, we had something happen, and if you are a friend of Noaloa’s, well, I - - -”
Now the same official was sitting in the waiting room as Bruddah approached him, grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted the frightened man up out of his chair.
“No be scared, bra’. I guest in you country. I no punch you out. Go back run you contest. We no need you heah.”
Bruddah set the man down gently and watched him head for the door.
Then the big Hawaiian sat down and waited for doctors to tell him what was going to happen next.
But for the next two days, nothing changed. Noaloa remained sedated in the hospital and, back at the beach, the surf stayed flat. Contest organizers were able to force through the qualifying rounds and seed the winner into the main event. When Wednesday dawned and the surf was still terrible, officials put the contest on hold in hopes that some waves would appear the next day.
They didn’t, and now they were getting heat from the corporate sponsors. A TV show was planned, bleachers had to be filled and a champion had to be crowned. It all had nothing to do with the true spirit of surfing, so on a cold, overcast coast with not a wave in sight officials had no choice but to run the first round of pro surfing preliminaries.
The next day’s dawn was even more dismal. It was Good Friday, and at Bell’s Beach there was nothing good about it. The surf was dead flat, not even a ripple. There was literally not a wave in the ocean, and the contest had to be postponed again. Organizers were now in a panic. They began to make plans to run the entire event on Sunday, with shortened heats and a twelve hour schedule. The weather was supposed to change, and a new swell was tentatively predicted. Noaloa was still in the hospital with a severe concussion and a broken nose from the blows of the bricklayer. Doctors kept him under constant watch in case any swelling occurred in his skull that might damage the brain. He was conscious, and Bruddah never left his side.
Noaloa’s assailant was jail. When contest officials had pulled him off Sonny-boy, the guy started throwing punches wildly. The whole thing turned into a pub brawl, except alcohol hadn’t fueled the fight, though exactly what caused it would never be an easy thing to explain. Surf rage is sometimes beyond words.
Easter Sunday dawned at Bells Beach. The sound system came alive with “Hell’s Bells”, followed by a voice booming out of the huge speakers.
“G’day, everyone, and Happy Easter Sun - - - “
A screech of feedback drowned out the words until the announcer turned down the volume knob and started over.
“G’day, and happy Easter to us all. We’ve got the best surfers in the world ‘ere t’day at the Bell’s Beach Pro Surfing Championships. And the action will be startin’ in a few minutes. First call heat number one, first call heat number one. Wearin’ yellah will be Mick Lennox. Mick almost won it all last year and you can bet he’s hungry for a shot at the title. Mick Lennox please report to the competitors’ waitin’ area! Wearin’ red will be - - -“
Mick Lennox and Col Ritchie were sitting on the bluff overlooking Bell’s Beach. The sky was clear but the surf was almost non-existent. It was the last possible day for the event, and fortunately the winds that had cleared the sky were also kicking up some chop that could be surfed. The comp was finally going to happen and everyone felt a little relieved as the first rays of the sun illuminated the three-story high scaffolding and sponsor banners at sunrise on Easter Sunday.
Yet to Col Ritchie, it was as if a curse had flattened the ocean because Neptune himself was enraged that the wonder of riding a wave had been twisted into a business and a battlefield of violence for which there was no excuse.
“Well, mate, Noaloa’s still in the hospital, so you just may win this one.”
“Yeah, well, he got what he had comin’ to ‘im, fair dinkum.”
“Fuck off, Mick,” said Ritchie, his Aussie sense of fair play now fully aroused, “There wasn’t anything fair about it and you fuckin’ well know it. I mean, what the fuck is it all about when a guy gets put inna ‘ospital ovah some shitass waves and a fuckin’ trophy?”
“Well, sometimes you just have to defend what’s yores.”
“Oh shut yer mouth, mate, the ocean ain’t yores. Waves don’t belong to you or anyone else,” said Ritchie, “Anyway, ya can ‘ave ‘em today, all ya want, and maybe you’ll be the champ, or was that chump?”
“Well, we’ve come alla way down heah. I bettah get goin’.”
Lennox couldn’t look him in the eye as he got up to get ready for his heat.
Col Ritchie watched him walk down the bluff to face the realities of a professional surfing contest invading what used to be a pastoral and beautiful place. It was sunny, and thousands of people were filling the parking lots to overflowing. He knew the sponsors were going to be ecstatic to have their banners seen by the huge crowds, and when he saw the TV camera scaffolding, he almost began to laugh out loud. The surf was so bad they wouldn’t dare broadcast it live, but he knew what the plan would be. After extensive editing and insertions of the sponsors’ commercials, the show would end up filling an hour, complete with crowd shots, nervous competitors waiting for their heats, good looking sheilas lounging in string bikinis, and, hopefully, an Aussie raising the famous trophy above his head on a beersoaked winner’s platform.
Ten hours later, the sponsors did indeed get their money’s worth. Mick Lennox was a relentless competitor when it came to outfoxing his international rivals. He breezed through the prelims, quarters, and semi -finals, taking down surfers from around the world who were out-of-synch after all the delays. In the finals he faced the current world champion from California who had won on points alone last year. The crowd chanted “Aussie – Aussie –Aussie” while the surfers battled it out in the sloppy waves. And when it was all over, Mick Lennox had won the Bell’s Beach Pro Championships. Oversize cans of beer were shaken and sprayed all over the trophy stand. TV cameras and surf mag photographers covered it from every possible angle. When Lennox hoisted the fabled bell trophy over his head, he caught sight of Col Ritchie, and the smile faded from his face for a second before another wave of flash cameras reminded him to keep smiling.
After all the beer had been sprayed and all the cameras turned off, Lennox walked over to his friend.
“Well, ya did it, mate, for what its worth.”
“Worth twenty grand and a lot of points, I’d say. You still got somethin’ up yer arse, Col?”
Ritchie looked the champ in the eye, then looked over his shoulder and nodded. Standing next to a rental car was a big, dark skinned man.
“He’s been waitin’ for ya, Mick, ‘cause there’s someone in the car ya need to see, mate.”
The passenger door opened, and at first he didn’t recognize the person getting out of the car with a bandage on his face. Then realization hit Mick Lennox. He put the trophy down and walked towards Bruddah and Sonny-boy Noaloa. He stopped about five yards from the car. He turned and looked back at Ritchie holding the trophy. Then he looked at the envelope in his hand containing the check for his first place victory.
“I heard you lookin’ fo’ me, Lennox. I just want make sure you find me before I get outta heah.”
“You got that right, mate. ‘ere you go. ‘ospitals ain’t cheap,” he said, and he handed the envelope to Noaloa.
The two surfers looked at each other, and neither knew what to say next.
“Eh, Sonny-boy, say mahalo,” said Bruddah.
“Nah, no thanks necessary . The surf was so bad, ya would’a won, ya know. I heard ya knocked the stuff out of those guys in yer first heat.”
“Fo’ reals , but den da heat end, and dey come bleed my face!” laughed Noaloa.
Col Ritchie came over and put the trophy on the front of the car.
“Ya wanna ornament for the bonnet?”
“Nah, he got plenny dose at home,” said Bruddah, and they all started laughing. A local surfer in a wetsuit with a board under his arm came running past the four men standing around the car. He recognized Lennox and slowed to a walk.
“Good on ya, Mick! Bring us a title this year!”
“Thanks. Where you goin’? There’s no surf!”
“Oh yeah there is. Look!”
All eyes turned toward the ocean. A set of head high waves was rolling in.
“’appens every time, mate. Soon as the tour leaves, the surf comes up. She’ll be big by sundown, and tomorrow’ll be perfect, mate. And the circus will be long gone. See ya next year, champ!”
The surfer ran down the pasture toward the fresh new waves as the banners were being rolled up and the scaffolding began to come down.
* * *
“But I found it and I want it!”
“Now Katy, let the other little girl have it,” said Aleja Gracellen.
“No, I want it! I want it! I want it!”
The four year old dropped her Easter basket and clenched her fists. The mother was nowhere to be seen. She had been in the shelter for two weeks before a Saturday night turned into a slippery slope, leaving the little girl to wake up alone on Easter Sunday morning. Aleja had seen it happen before, and she knew a hug was not going to work. She did know what would.
“I think I know where there’s the best egg in the whole world, and if I tell you where it is, will you come with me to get it?”
“Where is it?”
“Cheryl, take over for a second. Katy and I are going to find the best egg in the whole world!”
“But, what will I do? There’s a lot going on and I’ve - - -“
Aleja Gracellen looked the CEO in the eye.
“This is part of the deal, remember? Don’t worry, we’ll be right back. Oh, and if you get the chance, check the porta-potties and make sure there’s enough toilet paper in ‘em.”
Gracellen took the little child’s hand and walked away from the shelter’s Easter Sunday breakfast and egg hunt. “Now, we’re going to find you a special Easter egg, and we’re going to find it where no one else can see it.”
“Will it be pretty?”
“I think so. The Easter bunny sometimes hides eggs right next to the ocean because she likes the sound of the waves. Do you like the ocean, Katy?”
“Yes. Do you know where my mommy is?”
“Your mommy is looking for Easter eggs, but they are really hard to find. I think God is trying to help her.”
“I hope so. She needs a lot of help.”
“Look, Katy, there are the dolphins!”
The little girl ran to the water waving her arms.
“Hello dolphins! Hello! Wait for me!”
Gracellen stopped and watched the child. She took an Easter egg out of her pocket and half-buried it in the sand near the high tide line. She watched the homeless child running along the edge of the water following three dolphins swimming along the surf line. A small set of waves came in. The dolphins took off and rode one underwater down the beach. The child was waving to them and running to keep up with them. Maybe miracles happen, maybe they don’t, but Gracellen could have sworn the dolphins saw Katy and jumped high out of the water - and then kept riding the wave as she ran along the beach.
Gracellen wiped her eyes, and the dolphins were gone. Katy came running back as full of joy as a child could be.
Then she saw the egg, and picked it up.
“I found it! I’m going to save it and give it to my mommy! Ok, we can go now. I found the egg!”
They walked back across the beach. Aleja Gracellen looked over her shoulder and saw another set of waves coming in. They were very small but stretched for a hundred yards parallel to the beach. They were from the same storm that produced the waves she had ridden with Heath only a few days ago,
three thousand miles out in the Pacific, where she’d ridden the biggest surf of her life . Now the last remnants of the winter’s last swell, so very far from their birthplace in the North Pacific, had allowed some dolphins to bring true joy to a little girl running along the shore.
When they got back to the Easter egg hunt, Katy’s mother was standing near a tree off to one side, looking chagrined and more than a little worse for wear.
“Mommy! Mommy! Look what I have for you!”
Mother and child embraced, and Aleja Gracellen had to say something before her heart would have choked her up completely.
“See you later, I hope?” she said, looking the mother in the eye.
“Yes, if you’ll have me.”
“Well, you’ll have to start all over, but that’s what we’re for.”
The two women nodded to each other and Gracellen turned away, only to see her chief volunteer on a cell phone at the food distribution table.
“- - - but call me tomorrow at the office and we’ll discuss it,” said Cheryl Corlund, “Uh, excuse me, could you please leave your shopping cart, oh, uh, sorry, that’s ok, you can keep it with you. Uh, yes, yes, Heath, I heard you the first time. I’m here helping Aleja with the Easter event she puts on at the shelter. I’m really busy, Heath, and no, no, please just take one plate of food, ok? There is plenty more and you can come back for seconds.”
Heath Larson was sitting very alone on the porch in the low glow of light from the sun just below the eastern horizon. With Gracellen gone and the Hawaiian winter surf over, he was beginning to amp in anticipation of surfing the raw power of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter storms.
“Cheryl, I’m going to call Ian Clark and get this thing in gear. Aleja is ready to tow in and I just talked to Bruddah, and we have to - - -“
“You did? What happened? Is Sonny-boy ok? Uh, Roberto! Check the porta-potties! There’s more toilet paper in that box over there. Heath, is he ok?”
“Well, he’ll be fine, and actually the whole thing worked out ok down there. But we have to get on track right away and - - -“
“Heath, Call Clark and tell him what you want. Then call me, no, call Roberto. Gotta go.”
Cheryl Corlund quickly put the phone away as Aleja Gracellen gave her a reproachful look.
“Ok, I’m working! Don’t worry! It was Heath, but everything is okay!”
* * *
Halfway between California and Hawai’i and three thousand miles to the south, the sun was two hands above the horizon. For almost all the sea people of Marulea, Sunday was always a day of rest, though without any formal services, even on Easter. However, they did follow one tradition faithfully.
Just after sunrise, many would gather in small groups because for the Maruleans, “Sunday services” were about helping each other, neighbor-toneighbor. And so three youths had come to the home of Luan and David Helmares to care for their infant children so that the parents could go off to spend the day being a couple in love.
The circle of pleasure flowed effortlessly, steady and true, strong, then a pause, then stronger once more, he on his back, she above. The sails were full of wind and the tiller tied against the tide and current. The three hulls of the voyaging craft were on course, leaving husband and wife free to find each other, skin to skin, in love and lust while voyaging to an isle on the horizon.
“Oh, oh, that’s wonderful, oh, yes, yes, yes!” The words flew through David’s dream under the shelter dome of the voyaging craft. There was a pause, and David stirred in his sleep. In the dream he could hear the words as they echoed. Then a laugh, almost a scream of delight, and David was awake.
“Go! Go! Oh, yes!”
Luan was standing on the bow, her rich skin supple and shapely, her shoulders broad, her waist trim, her legs long and lean. She glowed warm in the midmorning sunlight with a voice full of excitement and wonder.
“Luan! What are you - - -“
He saw that they had arrived at their destination, at the reef across the channel from the fishing grounds, the place of perfect waves he thought only he had seen. Luan turned and laughed, revealing a surfer off in the distance behind her. He was up and riding, and his wife couldn’t get enough of it.
“Luan! What’s going on?” he said, the anger rising in his voice.
“Oh don’t get your panties in a bunch, David, or whatever your old State Beach buddies used to say. It’s my father!”
“Oh, uh, yeah, ok, yeah, sure it is, who else could it be?” he said, suppressing an inner intensity less about jealousy than it was surprise. He joined his wife to see Taveka gliding motionless across a wave, leaning back and raising an arm in a classic pose. David remembered his mentor studying a photo above David’s bunk on the Morning Light, a photo of surf legend Joey Cabell, in full ‘danseur’ pose, at a reef in the Indian Ocean.
The wave finally tapered down to nothing, but the wooden board had a momentum of its own, and Taveka continued to glide for seconds after the wave backed off. He remained balanced and elegant, until he relaxed and lowered himself to kneel on the deck of his board. David felt a twinge of selfishness. Despite having his wife at his side, he found it hard to accept the fact that the wave he once thought of as his was being ridden by someone else, even if it was the man who had taught him so much.
Taveka slowly maneuvered his board around and pointed it back out to the take-off zone. He looked up and saw the voyaging craft. He stopped, thought for an instant, and then began to gesture and yell as loud as he could, his tone harsh and abrupt.
“Out! Out!! This is my wave now!”
A twinge exploded in David’s soul. He heard the thread of steel woven into Taveka’s voice and realizing his mentor wasn’t kidding. He quickly walked back to the stern.
“Ready about, Luan!”
She was dumbfounded. She’d never heard her father scream like that, and the reaction from her husband was just as shocking.
“David, its dad! He’s just kidding! C’mon, David!”
“Ready about, Luan! And I mean it!”
His wife came back to where the lines controlled the sails.
She released the lines as he pushed the tiller hard over. The craft turned hard away from the reef. Sails filled with wind, and David set a new course towards an empty horizon. Luan came back and sat next to him. She held his hand, and touched his cheek with her fingers. For a moment he was stoic and stared straight ahead. Then he began to cry.
“Why would he do that? Why? What, what did I do? He surfs because I taught him, he knew about the reef because I told him, and - - -“
“David, stop talking. You don’t have to stop crying. But stop talking.”
Luan could not have loved him deeply if his heart was not sensitive and true. And now his heart was pained. So she let him cry, her husband showing the real courage it takes for a man to feel deeply, and let it show. For a moment he buried his head against her breasts, until a thought opened his eyes.
“I know what he was doing. He was testing me. He was giving me a taste of my own poison, and he made sure it was as real as possible. He wanted to give me a strong dose, almost like an anti-venom, to inoculate me from ever letting myself lose control again. He knew what went through my mind the last time I was here, and he wanted to make sure I got the point, even if he had to use something deep inside him from a long time ago.”
Luan’s mind was reeling from the energy created between the two navigators. She could not absorb it, and so she let her body do the thinking. That gave her something to say.
“Well, David, we can always wait for him to leave,” she said, the vivacious smile in her eyes but a glimmer of the love she felt for the man in her arms, “Or how about that reef we went to the first time we sailed together? And that way we could be alone, David.“
“Oh, Luan, what would I do without you?”
She smiled at her lover, but then her smiled faded just a bit when he stood up quickly in a burst of excitement.
“Yeah! And on this swell it’s going to be firing!”
He went to the tiller and changed their course. She adjusted the sails, and the voyaging craft gained speed and began to make passage towards a reef off in the distance. He checked the current, she tightened the rigging and there was nothing else to do but glide across the clear turquoise water to their destination.
”Now, Luan, what else did you have in mind?”
“Hey, this localism stuff ain’t half bad!” Taveka thought to himself as he saw David’s voyaging craft heading out to sea. He almost laughed at how he’d played his little joke on David. But he knew, and he was sure David certainly knew, that it was no joke. He had tested his successor with but a drop of the bitter memory from his past, and he’d used the pain of his own failing to reinforce the message. Now he was confident David would be a better man for having to come face to face with what it was like to be on the receiving end of man at his worst.
Taveka looked up the reef, and a wave was breaking perfectly towards him. He noticed the mouth of the rolling tunnel was almost oval in shape, almost like an egg, reminding him that people had celebrated Easter as the morning sun shone down on churches and children around the world. Then he remembered it was Monday across the date line just a few thousand miles to the west and his moment of reflection flew away like a bird leaving a nest.
He turned his surfboard and aimed it down the path the wave would take along the reef. Two strong strokes and he slid down its face, the weight of his board causing it to accelerate with its own momentum. Quickly he was on his feet, leaning slightly and turning to set up a long effortless glide through an almost magical space.
David’s surfing had made such a strong impression on him that he’d begun to consider becoming a surfer himself, and then did exactly that. They’d built a special board for him, and with a few lessons from his former apprentice, the navigator found a new way to match his instincts with the ocean’s energy. He’d quickly mastered the basics, and now he was able to stay right in the pocket the entire wave, adjusting his speed now and then to trim through the best path down the curving wall of water. Spry and in great shape, Taveka had become a good surfer.
At the end of the ride, he looked out and could barely see the mast of the voyaging craft on course to another reef off in the distance. Now he was floating alone, surrounded by the aquas and emeralds of a lonely paradise, with more perfect waves coming down the reef as far as his eye could see. He didn’t waste an instant and began paddling to the takeoff zone, knowing that after the sun had set on this Easter Sunday, he would never surf these waves again. His thoughts were on new places to ride waves all throughout the Nebula Archipelago and on the place where he would ride his very last wave.